Interview with Gihan Amarasiriwardena

Background
Gihan is a young entrepreneur from Amherst, Massachusetts who has his own online clothing store called Ministry of Supply. Gihan graduated from M.I.T. in 2011 with a degree in Chemical Engineering and currently lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Interview

Gihan claims that his call to entrepreneurship was when he realized that no one had pioneered the market for active business clothing. Polar gear and gortex fabric fascinated the avid skier. Gihan traces his inspiration to classes he took at M.I.T. such as once called “How to Make Anything,” as well as an internship at IDEO. With a firm knowledge of the design process and equipped with the tools make his product a reality, Gihan set out to start his own company.

What has been one of your most challenging experiences?

“I’d say creating a startup team. One of the most important, if not the most important tasks in developing a start-up is to define the company’s values, once you do that, those you start to hire will already reflect those values. We didn’t do this initially, and as a result we had people with passions for different parts of the company and varying visions for where the company would go. The absolute hardest time, though, was when my co-founder left the company. Once that happened, I knew we needed to define our company’s values once and for all.”

When asked to reflect on his M.I.T. education:

“I feel I learned the most in my interdisciplinary classes. I took a project design class which exposed me to methods I use today on my own projects. Between learning business and engineering at M.I.T. and partnering with a local design school, I was able to dive into what I was most passionate about. What my education did was help me build a business, brand, and product.”

What is the one thing you’d like to describe the value you work in?

“I believe growth is the most important part of being an entrepreneur. You need both personal and professional growth, you must become a better version of yourself. Create an environment where everyone can be creative. For MOS, we never lost our ability to hustle, we’ve always kind of been scrappy in how we get things done. Keep in mind though that everything boils down to execution. You’ve got to deliver on time and you must engrain this in your company.”

How has your company focused on the customer?

“An effective way of selling your products or service is to adapt to your user to suit their needs. One of the tricky parts of adapting to your user is getting to know who they are and what they want. This is where micro communities come into play. One example is ‘Flyer Talk’ which is an online community of frequent flyers that share information, feedback, and deals. Not as formal is the group of people in a city who bike to work. Our product, business clothing for the active man, is perfect for the micro-community of those who bike to work. If you look wide enough you’ll find a community that has a need for your product or service.”

What would your three pieces of advice be to young entrepreneurs?

1. Cater your resources to your passions. I had always been fascinated with GORE-TEX and polar gear, so when I took a class at MIT called “how to make anything” I ended up designing a prototype for the clothing line I have now.

2. Know the three T’s – Time, Treasure, Talent
a. When you start a company you have more time than anything.
b. Your investors are going to be the ones with the “treasure.”
c. The team that you build will be your “talent.”
When get these three things right, then your start-up is well on its way to prospering.

3. Invest in your network because these are the people that want to see you succeed. Join national organizations in your city and at your school to have access to that large
network. Organizations, clubs, and teams give you a commonality with the people in that network, thus expanding your own.

Interview conducted by Chase Harker, a SMU Engineering Student

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